It certainly does not feel like it has already been a year since Dirt 3 was released. When I first heard Dirt Showdown was in the works, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought Dirt 3 was an excellent game but one that tried to be too many things for too many people with its multiple disciplines and introduction of gymkhana. Dirt Showdown takes a decidedly more focused approach with high attention to what I can only describe as “car combat”. It is completely over-the-top and fun as hell.
First and foremost, Dirt Showdown is by far the most arcade oriented game of Codemasters’ offerings to date. Unlike its predecessors, Showdown does away with rally style events and focuses on the gymkhana and head-to-head event types. Purists might see this as cause for concern but you should not go into this game expecting a sim-like experience. The action in Showdown is as much about crashing and smashing as it is about racing. Not only is taking other cars out a perfectly acceptable tactic, it is encouraged (as demonstrated by the introduction of both health and boost meters on your screen).
The Tour mode of the game is divided into four skill levels which you must progress through. New events are unlocked by earning podium finishes in each event. There are ten event types in total across three disciplines: races, demolition derby and “hoonigan” events. Race events range from straight up races to eliminator races that see the player in last place eliminated at periodic intervals during the race and finally domination events have racers vying for the best sector time each lap. Points are accumulated throughout the race so even if you are not in the lead you can contend for the win. You might think these race events sound a bit mundane. Well they certainly are not. Tracks are littered with tons of destructible objects and destruction. When the cars take the last laps of any race there is carnage with dead cars, their parts and tons of track objects such as tire walls, signs and other things littered around. It’s really rather brilliant.
Demolition derby events are far and away my favorite. Demolition derbies occur in both race and arena forms. The arenas are sized well to keep all players in immediate contact and the action frantic at all times. Knockout events perch players on top of a small platform within the bigger arena with the goal being to knock others out of commission or off the platform. If you fall off, you simply find a ramp that leads back up. It is great fun alone and even better with a group of good friends.
Rounding out the event types are “hoonigan” events which feature gymkhana stylings of performing tricks like drifts, donuts and jumps. I had a difficult time with these events in Dirt 3 and I tend to enjoy racing and crashing in to others a bit more than trying to pull off tricks. However, the physics have been made more accessible for Showdown and I noticed that pulling off tricks like repeated donuts and fancy drifts is a lot easier in this game. That said, any time I actually managed to pull off a drift under a semi-trailer it was pure luck. The hoonigan mode that stood out the most to me was the Head-2-Head races which put you up against a single opponent. Rather than just race, specific tricks must be performed at points along the race route. These events are a blast in that they combine both racing and trick elements.
Rounding out the single player experience is a cool mode called Joyride. This mode consists of playing one of two areas from the game. Each area is completely open. There is no time or opponents. You are simply tasked with driving around the environment and completing various objectives such as “smash through X” or “jump Y”. There are also hidden packages to find with some nice rewards for completing these objectives. Joyride offers a nice, casual approach to the game for those looking for a less frantic experience.
I should note that I experienced a significant amount of rubber banding AI in my playtime. I would normally complain about this but with the premise of the game being focused so much on car combat I am okay with it. Rather than detract from the gameplay, it actually enhances it by keeping everyone in touch with one another. More chances to hit people equals more fun. There are simply so many variables in a five lap 8-Ball race that it seems like first place is never really out of reach no matter where you are on the track. I will also note that if you are a competent racer you will find Showdown pretty simple. I had little issue scoring 1st place finishes in each event with just a couple of retries if I didn’t get it right away. I typically take a little longer than the average gamer to get through a game. I estimate it will to take you about 4-6 hours to play through all of the Tour events.
Showdown also introduces Racernet to the franchise for the first time. Think of this as Codemasters’ version of Autolog where you can see the times and exploits of your friends and challenge them to take on your accomplishments. While they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery this is not a complete rip off of Autolog. In an interesting take, when attempting a friend’s challenge you only get three chances to best it. This adds a sense of tension you don’t find with Autolog. It’s neat stuff.
As much fun as I had alone, the real legs for Dirt Showdown are online. When GRID was released a few years ago, one of the best modes was the destruction derby. Even with just one track, our community played this mode endlessly. We always had fun but I openly questioned why there wasn’t more in the way of variety. Folks, your prayers have been answered. Not only are there more tracks, there are no less than 10 game modes available to play online with your friends. While a couple of the event types from the single player mode aren’t playable online, three new Party game types are added in. These Party games are events like Capture the Flag; free-for-all races where you can go through a series of checkpoints in whichever order you want; and Dirt’s own take on Halo’s Oddball. Online events can also be played solo or as teams. With everything available online, Dirt Showdown has the potential to be one of the most entertaining racing games to play with your friends in a long time, probably since Blur.
Generally speaking, Codemasters racing games are some of the best looking racing games in the market. Thanks to their lighting model, Dirt Showdown does not disappoint in the visuals department. Complementing the over-the-top action is its equally over-the-top look. An ultra-bright colour palette contrasts starkly with other rally and racing games. Around every turn there are neon colours, flashbombs and fireworks. There are only two viewpoints this time: a hood view and a behind-the-car view. There are no dashcams in this game and that suits me just fine. In a game all about carnage the third person viewpoint seems like the right decision. As good as the cars look they look better damaged. Your car never stays clean and unscathed for long with smashing and crashing being the name of the game. It isn’t Burnout level of destruction but what’s there looks excellent. No matter the amount of cars, action or pyrotechnics going on on-screen the action stays fast and smooth.
If I have one single annoyance about how Showdown sounds it is the track announcer. He is a little over the top, repetitive and often comments on things that might be happening on the track that have no bearing on what you’re physically doing. I get that it is supposed to be a track announcer but I found it a little too much. Thankfully you can turn him down. That’s really all that’s wrong with Showdown’s sound. Otherwise, just like other Codemasters games, things sound great thanks to a terrific attention to detail and (for lack of a better way to describe it) great separation of the sound. I’m not sure why but Codemasters games always seem to sound deeper than most. I don’t mean deeper in bass but the immersiveness when playing the game through a 5.1 channel surround set up.
Toss out any notions of what you thought the Dirt series was about as Dirt Showdown is all about flash and carnage. This game is not meant to be a successor to Dirt 3 as it is a game of its own. It is over-the-top, arcadey, tons of fun and shows that you do not need weapons to make a car combat title. Do not be fooled by Showdown coming just a year after Dirt 3. This is an excellent game that easily stands on its own. If you are looking for an accessible title to play alone or with friends all the while having an absolute blast then Dirt Showdown is a no brainer purchase.